Microsoft will aggressively muscle into the serviced client security market in June when its OneCare Live service goes on sale at $49.95 a year to protect up to three PCs against viruses, spyware and the like. This is 50% cheaper than the current price for the equivalent service from McAfee.com (which costs $99.99 after a $30 rebate), and is probably a lot less than Symantec was planning to charge for its planned Genesis service, which it announced earlier this week. It currently charges $119.99 for its equivalent packaged software product.
From one point of view, this is Microsoft muscling in on the territory of the established security specialists, The emerging 'serviced client' is a hugely significant strategic battleground but Microsoft will probably look on it differently (or ought to, if it has any sense). As I mentioned yesterday when writing about Symantec's Genesis product, this type of service "is a special subset of software-as-a-service, in which the software is installed and run locally, but automatically maintained and updated from the provider's central servers. It's an example of the 'serviced client' that I included as one of the layers in What to expect from Web 3.0."
As we've already seen from the emergence of AJAX (and even more so when Windows Vista comes along with its inbuilt web services, integral RSS, and so on), users are looking for rich Web client experiences, and that will still require quite powerful local processing. The fantasy of a cut-down, maintenance-free network client will always be a pipedream. But users won't want to pay the futz penalty of having to look after such sophisticated local functionality for themselves. They'll expect their client machines to be managed and maintained from the network.
Think this through, and you can see how strategically important the OneCare Live service becomes for Microsoft. Does the company want those remote PC management services provided by third-party vendors like McAfee.com and Symantec that have no innate loyalty to the Windows platform and Office suite? Clearly, if there's going to be a vendor with a presence on the user's desktop, in a position of trusted advisor on matters such as software upgrades, security and the like, then Microsoft has a firm self-interest in being that vendor. The emerging 'serviced client' is not merely an interesting new side-effect of a connected world. It's a hugely significant strategic battleground for those who want to be the leading vendors of serviced client platforms — and for Microsoft to defend its desktop hegemony against their encroachments.